On August 19, 2021, the Colombian National Police (PNC, in Spanish) handed over two members of the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish) to U.S. authorities to face narcoterrorism charges, the Colombian Ministry of Justice said in a statement.
Henry Trigos, alias Moncho Picada, and Yamit Picón, alias Choncha, had an arrest warrant issued by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas for distributing cocaine from Colombia to the United States for the ELN’s financial benefit, the U.S. Department of Justice said. Colombian agents captured these individuals in September 2020, the Colombian Ministry said.
“Today, alias Choncha and alias [Moncho], two leaders of the ELN terrorist group, will be extradited to the United States,” Colombian President Iván Duque said on Twitter. “The criminals are wanted for extradition […] and have an INTERPOL red notice for [perpetrating] the terrorist attack on the General Francisco de Paula Santander Police Academy, where 22 students died.”
Picón is accused of being the ELN’s financial officer in Magdalena department, in addition to doing business with the Mexican Sinaloa cartel. Meanwhile, Trigos is accused of storing and distributing drugs in Norte de Santander, on the border with Venezuela, the U.S. government indicated.
“This is the first time believed members of the [ELN] have been extradited to the United States in the organization’s nearly 60-year history to face both narcoterrorism and drug trafficking charges,” the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Respecting the process
On August 28, Colombian Attorney General Francisco Barbosa said that prosecutors met with FBI special agents in Washington, D.C., to discuss involvement in the attack on the National Army 30th Brigade and the helicopter that was transporting President Duque. He said that they were working on issues related to money laundering and extradition processes.
“We have a very solid relationship for countering crime with the United States and with the international community,” Attorney General Barbosa said.
Extradition is one of the toughest tools Colombia and its partners use to combat narcoterrorism, Reuters said. Colombia is preparing the extradition processes of more than 300 criminals, the news agency added.
“We will respect due processes, but it will be the U.S. government that will judge and convict them,” Colombian Minister of Justice Wilson Ruiz Orejuela told the Colombian radio station La FM on March 30. “These are members of the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia], ELN, and other criminal organizations [who are] accused of the crimes of terrorism and narcotrafficking,” he said.
Eugenio Vargas, alias Carlos Bolas, was the first criminal Colombia extradited to the United States, in 2002. A jury indicted FARC leader Vargas for narcotrafficking and terrorism, reported Colombian newspaper El Tiempo. So far in 2021, Colombia has extradited more than 90 people to the United States, the U.S. newspaper The San Diego Union Tribune reported on August 19.
In addition to the extradition of Picón and Trigos, the Colombian Court of Justice approved the extradition of Franco Ruíz, another U.S.-wanted ELN criminal. A fourth ELN criminal, José Gabriel Álvarez, is also set for extradition to the United States, the Colombian Ministry of Justice said.